Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Life is Complicated: Maintaining Balance

It’s been an odd new year. It started with loss and grief, and quiet introspection. Once the season ended, we were caught in the whirl of daily life, amplified by our son’s need for an ACL fix, which has totally immobilized him for a couple weeks and which requires we all pitch in to help keep life going smoothly.

And, I had a major birthday.

The last major birthday I had like this one was when I turned 35 and realized that I hadn’t accomplished my major dreams. I cried all day. People kept stopping by, bringing gifts and cards, and I just kept crying That year, I started graduate school, and never looked back. I was a military wife at an overseas post, with duties to my husband, my community, my church and my job, and I piled on evening classes and all the attendant work of research and studying on top, and I had never been happier. Going back to school was like flying. I loved my studies, and on the days I felt overwhelmed, I would realize that grad school was the only thing I could resign from and I would choose to go forward. My studies were my reward for good behavior in all the other areas of my life.

“What? You didn’t love being a mother?” I hear you asking. We had an oddly shaped room in our quarters, long and narrow. My desk was at the far end, and next to it was my son’s desk. We would do homework together. I adored my son. I would take him to karate lessons, iron his acolyte robes, be there when he got home from school; he enriched my life. But what made my spirit fly was my studies.

Yesterday, things were relatively quiet and I started a project I usually start in January, cleaning out. We haven’t moved in nearly eight years. I tend to be pretty good at cleaning out and passing along or throwing out, but when you are settled, you don’t do so as conscientiously as when you live with a weight allowance. My weight allowance always heavily favored our items collected from foreign postings, and everything else was expendable. Now, the expendable is taking up space, and I want to clear out that which only burdens me and ties me down, and make way for whatever is coming.

En route, I came across a large packet of printed out letters from my earlier lives, one entry in particular, 5 pages describing our arrival in Kuwait. Oh! There are so many things I have already forgotten, so I read it through, and then passed it along to AdventureMan, and listened to him laugh as he hit the funny parts. I owe my Mother a great gratitude for having saved all those letters, for which, having gone through several computers since I wrote them, I have no records. Those were pre-FaceBook times, when we still sent out group e-mails, which then got forward on. Now, we have less time – or we take less time – to write at length about what is going on in our lives.

I made room for my growing collection of religious-oriented books. I have a shelf for them. I have my spiritual disciplines, like doing the Daily Lectionary, but for additional readings, books were scattered here and there. If I am going to get serious about reading them, I have to have them where I know where they are, and I can retrieve them easily. They don’t call it “discipline” for no reason.

When I was a nomad, life’s busier moments were balanced by the enormous quiet of being in a new location. There were the logistical challenges of deliveries, moving out / moving in, looking for the good grocery stores, the cleaners who could do your nicer clothes without ruining them, getting new visas, driver’s licenses, memberships, etc. but in general, life could be very quiet for up to six months. I always found those quiet times, before new friendships, meetings, commitments, etc. very nourishing to my spirit.

I’ve never been so settled. There are times when my spirit rebels against the sameness of it all. There are times when I miss being around people who don’t always use deodorant and who smell sweaty; it takes me back to riding the strassenbahn (street car) in high school in Heidelberg, or to Africa and our adventures there. There are times I catch a whiff of Desert Rose, and feel an urgent upwelling of nostalgia for walking down a Gulf Arab avenue, or through a mall, and how it was the men who smelled so good. There are times I would kill for real flatbread, fresh out of the oven, or for a Tunisian “brik,” done in pure olive oil, or for the simplest French dish, moules frites, mussels in a simple wine sauce with fries.

I do love Pensacola. I have friends here. I’ve always been lucky that way; people take me in and take me behind the scenes. I hear the old stories of how Pensacola used to be, and I hear the new stories, that corruption is never hidden enough to go undiscovered. People in Pensacola, like people everywhere, know things, and I am honored that they share these insights with me. I have found religious community here. I have found meaningful work.

I have a son of whom I am enormously proud. I love and admire his wife. And I have two of the smartest, funniest grand-children on earth, with whom I love spending time.

(Did you know that the use of “whom” is generational?)

It is a sodden, rainy day in Pensacola. AdventureMan is on the couch, here in my office, snoozing as I write. We are on our way to church, then I have a meeting before coming home to do my studies for my class this week. As it says in our Episcopalian Forward Day-byDay: Oh God, Give me strength to live another day. Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties: let me not lose faith in other people   . . .

On on.

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February 11, 2018 Posted by | Aging, Blogging, Books, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Parenting, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings | Leave a comment

Ramadan Kareem 2017

What can be bad about devoting 40 days to thinking about God, thinking about his holiness, his compassion, his generosity, his mercy? What can be bad about fasting in his honor, renewing personal attention to family and close friends, to reading the word of God? Ramadan was my favorite time when I lived in Qatar and Kuwait, full of amazing surprises and grace. May your Ramadan be blessed, my friends, with unexpected abundance and joy.

May 26, 2017 Posted by | Kuwait, Qatar, Ramadan | 2 Comments

The Best Road Trip Ever

“So when are you going to write up our trip,” AdventureMan asks, lolling on my office day-bed on a lazy Friday morning. He’s heading out to do a thankless, endless job – weeding. Meanwhile, we are catching up and making plans.

“I read your trip reviews and I think ‘what a fun woman! I’d love to travel with her!’ and then I realize I was on the trip, too! I was with you!”

We’ve been back a couple weeks now, but this is Ending Time, you know, the end of the school year, a semi-closing down of the church year, lots of events and goings-on. On the day of my last class, a class in religious history, I came home and did what I have done ever since I hit university. Before I took exams, I cleaned my space. I need order and structure and clean to focus on my exams. Old habits die hard; now I can do a little quilting, but first . . . clean my office space! Out with the old! Space for the books! Organize those scraps! It all takes time, but I am seeing the end of the tunnel, and I need to write up this trip.

It was the best trip ever. Oh, did I already say that?

Shorter Days, Longer Stays

After all these years of trip planning, we’ve had to come to some compromises. AdventureMan wasn’t raised getting up at “the crap of dawn” as he calls it, hitting the road, stopping for a quick breakfast, hitting the road, bat-out-of-hell on the road until we reach the destination. No, that is not for him. Nor (sigh) is it for me. Ageing has caused me some real re-evaluation on travel style. We decided on “Shorter days, longer stays.”

The first day of our trip was sheer joy. Our flight didn’t leave until nine in the morning, not like six in the morning when we are headed for Seattle. We boarded a local hop to Atlanta, transferred to a bigger flight to Denver, where Little Diamond lives with her two little diamond sparklers, her twins, whom I have hungered to cuddle. Our flight attendant asked all the DaVita travelers to raise their hands – it was almost everyone on the flight, headed to a big conference, party atmosphere.

On landing, I got a message that our car was waiting; we went straight there, got a Denver map, headed for our hotel, a very odd Fairfield Inn in a great location, just off a major highway, where we checked in and called Little Diamond, who was there in about fifteen minutes. Oh, what joy! We’ve missed Little Diamond! All those years she would come stay with us, in Doha, in Kuwait, in Germany. There were times she would come and we would leave her in charge, and now, here she is, a professor, an expert, a grown woman with delightful little children of her own.

We did what we always do – we hit the Target. It’s what we always did when she came into town, too, we are a peculiar family with particular tastes. AdventureMan and I needed to stock up on water and car snacks for our upcoming road trip, and some sunscreen, which came in handy later on. Well, when she would come into town, we hit the Sultan Center, or the Lulu, depending on where we were living, but same idea – to be comfortable traveling, it helps to have some of your favorite things around.

We had so much catching up to do, and then – where to go for dinner? It’s always good to know a local, Little Diamond had some great suggestions, and we had one of the best meals on our trip at True Food, in the Cherry Park area.

True Food was really interesting, fabulous menu with unique and tasty offerings, very good wines, and uniformly beautiful wait staff. I know, it’s an odd thing to say, but it’s as if there were a template that included looking clean and well-groomed kind of beautiful, natural beauty. The food was the same, natural ingredients, put together with imagination and flair. And maybe seasoned by our joyfulness at all being together, we “killed the fatted fig.”

 

Actually, while all our appetizers were a variety of vegetables, I had salmon, and it was marvelous, served on quinoa on a bed of . . . parsnips? It was perfect.

We had time after dinner with the kids; in the interest of protecting their privacy I will forego posting their photos, in addition to the fact that, at three, they are moving so fast it is hard to capture them clearly in the evening light.  🙂 We left Little Diamond and the little little diamonds with big smiles on our faces, knowing we would see them again at the end of our trip.

The night at the Fairfield Inn was quiet and peaceful, even though we were near a busy highway. The cooler temperatures helped us sleep, in spite of the noisy plastic covers they are using to cover their mattress. The mattresses are really good, but the plastic covers makes them “sleep hot” and they also crackle. It’s a small thing, but it affects our sleep. We are up at an early hour and hit the road after a quick breakfast.

May 26, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Blogging, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Hotels, Kuwait, Photos, Privacy, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | 2 Comments

Grieving for Damascus

“This is a place I would love to retire,” I once told AdventureMan, as we wandered the streets. “It has all the things I love. Beautiful architecture and a rich history. It’s on a river. It gets cold in the winter. You can walk to local stores.”

Today, with great sadness, I read that Damascus is now rated the #1 Most Unlivable City in the World, beating out Douala, Cameroon; Harare, Zimbabwe; Karachi, Pakistan; Algiers, Algeria; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Lagos, Nigeria; and Tripoli, Libya. This is what the report summarized about Damascus:

Damascus has forgotten more than your city will likely ever know-and it has been a battleground for almost its entire existence. The City of Jasmine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, the least livable city in the world-for good reason. More than 13 million Syrians require humanitarian aid, 6.5 million have been displaced, and almost half a million have been killed on all sides of the conflict there-government soldiers, opposition soldiers, and civilians. It’s scores are predictably abysmal, with a 15 (out of 100) for stability at the bottom end and a mere 43.3 for culture and environment at the top end.

This is a city which has been at the crossroads of civilization about as long as civilization has been around. This is a city which was refined, and tolerant, a city which was once full of caravans carrying spices, silks and riches to the West.

We were last there in 2007, and we are so glad we went when we did. Damascus was revitalizing, building up a tourism business with grand hotels, and lovely, intimate boutique hotels.

We stayed at the Talisman. We grieve for the fine people we met there, and for all the losses they have suffered.

AdventureMan said “why don’t you do a photo-share, like you did with Doha?” At first, I didn’t want to, but then, I looked at the photos – and once again, I was smitten. I pray for a miracle for Syria, for new, enlightened, tolerant leadership and opportunities for the good Syrian people. For renewed vigor in churches and mosques and synagogues there. (The Talisman is in the old Jewish quarter, where the Greek Orthodox also have their headquarters.)

This is the majlis – sitting area – at the Talisman.

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A restaurant nearby the Talisman:

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Breakfast at the Talisman:

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The historical nearby Bab, or gate:

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A nearby Tabak and the friendly operator:

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Streetside bakery:

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A courtyard restaurant, with lovely dishes. And note the Christmas tree; Christmas decorations and greenery everywhere!

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A Christian Shop near Bab Thoma:

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Interior at Umayyad Mosque, all are welcome and abayas provided. You leave your shoes at the door. This is the rear of the Tomb of John the Baptist:

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Naranj, our favorite restaurant. I understand branches of Naranj have opened in Gulf Countries, Qatar, Kuwait, as wealthier Syrians take their money out of Syria and wait for more peaceful times. I am betting they will return to Syria as soon as they can.

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Inside Naranj

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A merchant in the Souk al Hamidiyya

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A courtyard restaurant set up for Christmas dinners:

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I’ve never met a Syrian who wasn’t educated and working hard to make a good life for his/her family. We wonder if we will ever be able to visit Syria again in our lifetime?

For more photos of Damascus, you can visit my 2007 posts, Walking Old Damascus, by clicking here.

 

January 18, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Doha, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Kuwait, Leadership, Living Conditions, Photos, Political Issues, Restaurant, Travel | , | 4 Comments

“Yes Ma’am, That Was For a Bus Ticket to Mexico”

“We see it all the time.”

As long as we lived overseas, AdventureMan and I never had a problem with our credit cards. I used ATM’s all over Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to make cash withdrawals when I needed what my Mom calls “jingle money,” you know, walking-around money for lunch out, for fabrics in the souks, for whatever we needed cash for. It was easy, and it must have been safe. We never once had a problem.

 

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Now, we’ve had to change our numbers several times.

This one was particularly odd, though. I got a second notice on a card I call my “hurricane” card. When you live in Florida, massive calamity can happen literally overnight. You may have to suddenly evacuate to a strange city and need funds for emergency housing, and housing the pets. No running to the bank for a withdrawal when an area has been destroyed by a tornado; it can take months for infrastructure to be back up and running normally.

The charge was made just after we returned from traveling, so my first instinct was to check my wallet, and the card was not there. Oddly, while it was my account, it was AdventureMan’s card, which has a different number. He assures me he never made the change. I believe him; I find both cards safely tucked away, unused, in a safe place.

I call the bank. I explain that we had been traveling, but neither of us think we made this charge, the only charge on this card, the card we not only never use, but don’t even keep in our wallets. The bank lady takes a look and laughs and says “Oh yes. That was a bus ticket to Mexico. We’ve seen that before.”

Long story short, this kind of fraud has become so routine that they have routine practices that go immediately into effect to protect us, to protect their other customers and to restore our hurricane card.

But when she said it was for a bus ticket to Mexico, I burst out laughing, and all my anxiety disappeared in a heartbeat. No. I did not charge a bus ticket to Mexico, and neither did AdventureMan.

It’s just so odd, to me. These are cards that have never even been in our wallets. They never leave their safe place. How was someone able to use them?

December 8, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Crime, Customer Service, Doha, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, fraud, Kuwait, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Saudi Arabia, Scams, Survival, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Abortion Online

First, I need to tell you that I believe abortion is wrong. I believe the death penalty is wrong. Because I am a believer, I believe our lives are in God’s hands.

And.

And I also believe that every woman who faces an unwanted pregnancy has to make that decision for herself. It is not for me to decide how YOU live your life. There are circumstances when even a believer has to make a difficult decision, like a soldier facing killing on the battlefield, or a president with his finger on the nuclear trigger. People have to make unhappy decisions.

Here is an organization that gives women those options:

Abortion Without Borders


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When RA1 found out she was pregnant, she had two options: Have a baby she did not want or risk her life and face prison. 

RA, who was born and raised in Dubai, lives with her husband and two children in Egypt, where abortion is illegal, except to save a woman’s life. Women who voluntarily induce abortions face criminal charges and up to three years in prison.

“I already had a girl and a boy, so the best of both worlds,” says RA. “It’s not easy raising kids in Egypt — financially, culturally and psychologically — and I didn’t want another baby.”

RA found doctors who could help, but they either advised against abortion, insisted on surgery or were illegal “under the staircase” doctors — notorious for abusing their power over women

Instead, she scoured the internet for alternatives and found articles discussing the use of methotrexate, normally used to abort pregnancies that occur outside of the womb, a complication known as an ectopic pregnancy.

RA’s pregnancy was healthy, but out of desperation, she took the methotrexate.

“It was a huge risk, but I felt so helpless, like I couldn’t even control my own body,” she says. “I cried for days. I hated the situation I was in.” 

The methotrexate failed. RA went back to the internet in search of help. Eventually, she came across Women on Web, an online-only abortion service that conducts free web-based medical consultations and mails eligible women pills for medical abortions. It saved her life.

Since it was founded by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts in 2005, more than 200,000 women from 140 countries have completed Women on Web’s online consultation, and approximately 50,000 women have performed medical abortions at home. Women on Web’s helpdesk answers 10,000 emails daily in 17 languages, and the website attracts almost one million unique monthly visitors.

But before Women on Web became a safe harbor, it was a rogue vessel on the open ocean.

(This is a long informative article. You can read the whole article HERE.)

October 5, 2016 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Circle of Life and Death, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Middle East, Pakistan, Political Issues, Privacy, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues | , | 4 Comments

It’s My Party! Here There and Everywhere Hits Ten Years

I keep telling you I am quitting, and I am not. Today, September 6th, ten years ago, I was sitting in my aerie in Kuwait, overlooking the Arabian Gulf, when I gathered all my nerve and went public.

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I’d always wanted to write.

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What better time? While every move was a great adventure, there was a downside. The downside is that it takes a while to gather your “band of brothers” (mine tend to be mostly sisters), your buddies, your protection against the inevitable rudeness of life. I was still reeling from leaving the strong band we had formed in Qatar (and still we are in touch, celebrating and protecting one another), and I was not yet sure where my Kuwait friends would come from.

I was in for a big surprise. I met wonderful friends through blogging. To the best of my knowledge, I am the last one standing of my blogging friends at that time; they were crucial to my investment in Kuwait, and the returns on that investment. I learned from them, I changed a lot of my thinking due to new ideas they introduced, and I profited greatly from our relationships. The friendships I formed in Kuwait rocked my world.

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I was so scared, at the beginning, putting myself and my ideas out there. I loved the feedback I got, and get. I wanted a place to tell my stories so I wouldn’t forget them, and to ponder things I still don’t understand well. Your feedback and input are a great gift to me.

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I still love sharing our trips with you, and, from time to time, puzzlements from my own culture. I’m still that little girl from Juneau, Alaska, a stranger in a strange land.

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Thank you for a wonderful ten years. No, I am not planning to stop. I’ve had to be more patient with myself. Expat lives have spaces in them, time is different outside the United States, less full-all-the-time. I can’t blog the way I used to. I can’t quilt the way I used to. My time is full with AdventureMan, and grandchildren, and family, and church, and volunteer experiences.

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We have a wonderful life, and we still get restless. We take two large trips a year now, to satisfy that wanderlust, and smaller trips to Mobile for Syrian food, to New Orleans for the escape and for Ethiopian food, to Atlanta to see friends, to Seattle to see family – and for Chinese food, to Panama City and Apalachicola for family and oysters.  LOL, yes, there is a pattern. And meanwhile, we are surrounded by some of the best Gulf seafoods, and some of the best BBQ in the world, but man cannot live on BBQ alone.

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Thank you for hanging in there for all these years, and for all the fun we’ve had together. Thank you for helping me learn about and understand the nuances, the deep underbellies of the cultures I otherwise would have skimmed over, never knowing the depth and richness I was missing out on. Thank you for your friendships, and for all the stories you have shared with me in the background that helped me see things differently. It’s you who have rocked my world, with your honesty and your bravery.

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And while you are here, have some mint tea – yes, the mint is from our garden – and cake. Those Venetian ones are soaked in liqueurs, but there are some chocolate ones, and a gingered fruit or two . . .  You are always welcome.

September 6, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Blogging, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | 10 Comments

Tale of Three Cities

Summer is hard for me in Pensacola. We keep busy; I do my water aerobics and two days a week now, I am taking little grand daughter to her swim lessons. Occasionally, we get a day with lower humidity, or a day with deep dark clouds and thunder, and dramatic lightning, and the temperatures will cool some, for a while.

It is hot. Thank God for air conditioning, but it is hot when we wake up and last night it didn’t even get into the seventies (F). It is just the summer weather pattern.

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But this morning, as I was putting up my greetings to all my Moslem friends in Jordan, in Qatar, in Kuwait and around the world, I remembered just how hot the summers were in Kuwait:

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Not even a chance of clouds or rain to break the heat!

 

And then I think of my growing up in Alaska, where 70 degrees (F) was a heat wave:

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I’m feeling cooler just looking at those temperatures 🙂

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Alaska, Kuwait, Pensacola, Weather | 2 Comments

China Town, Fan Tan Alley and I Get Some GOOD Chinese Food

We try to limit what we attempt, when we travel. If we try to do too much, we sometimes fail, or we get so busy trying to accomplish that we don’t really get to enjoy what we are doing. Or worse, we get cross with each other, crabby! On our vacation! So we make choices, AdventureMan wanted the Victoria Butterfly Gardens; I wanted GOOD Chinese food.

Our son knows us. When we decided to settle in Pensacola, to be near him and the coming grandchild/ grandchildren, he sat us down and told us things we needed to know about Pensacola. The first thing he told us was that there was no really GOOD Chinese food. Honestly, for me . . . well, I don’t want to say I thought twice, but no good Chinese food? Chinese food is my comfort food!

We asked the concierge at the Grand Pacific for a recommendation for GOOD Chinese food, and she, with great delight, directed us to the Fan Tan Cafe in China Town, just a short walk down Government Street. It was an easy walk, past the grand historic Empress Hotel (we didn’t stay there because the views, in my opinion, are not as good), and down one of the most fun shopping streets in the world to China Town.

We know we are getting close 🙂

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The entrance to China Town on Fisgard Street

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Fan Tan Cafe – it’s small, and crowded. You are bottom to bottom with the chair behind you and you are almost sitting next to the next table. It’s fun. You get to see what everyone else is eating. We were hungry, we were early and that was a good thing because we got a table. There are maybe 16 – 18  tables at the Fan Tan Cafe, and some of those are for two people. They do take reservations.

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This was the absolute best. AdventureMan chose the Spicy Shrimp appetizer, and it was delicious, top to bottom. Even the bedding vegetables were delicious. This was the highlight of the meal.

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We didn’t intend to order deep-fried pork. It was good, very General Tso kind of taste.

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The scallops and shrimp in black bean sauce was too delicate for us. We decided everything about it was beautiful, and the problem is probably more our palate, which likes more intensity.

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All in all, it was a very tasty meal. If we were to go back, which we will the next time we are in Victoria, I would try the Cantonese Chow Mein, or one of the noodle dishes for which they are famous. We saw them all around us, glistening and gorgeous, and they looked divine. Cannot wait to go back 🙂

I still miss the Taiwan Tourismo, in Jordan, where we had authentic, amazingly tasty Chinese food and never even knew how extraordinary it was. I miss the China Queen, later the Great Wall of China, in Mahboula, Kuwait, a little hole in the wall where the Chinese workers ate and I could point and say “I want that, please!” Real Chinese is different from North American Restaurant Chinese.

May 20, 2016 Posted by | Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Food, Jordan, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Values | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Edmonds Little Free Library

We are working on a Little Free Library for our church, so I have become very aware of the Little Free Libraries wherever I go. As I was photographing this (utterly gorgeous) Little Free Library, an Edmonds resident passing by said “You know we have hundreds of the Little Free Libraries in Edmonds, but this is the most beautiful.”

Hundreds. Edmonds is a civil place, and a bookish place. Edmonds people share. Every year there is a huge tour of gardens, and it includes many many many gardens. People work hard on their gardens, to give joy to passers-by. It thrills my heart to think of so many Little Free Libraries.

But this is the most beautiful:

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Bricks. A stained glass window. A copper roof. A window box – so much loving attention to detail, for something to give away to the public. I love this town.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think of Little Free Libraries popping up in Kuwait? Qatar? Saudi Arabia? Tunisia?

May 7, 2016 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Education, EPIC Book Club, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment